Muslim double-bind

All Muslim states are unstable either because they have enforced the shariah and are unhappy with it, like Pakistan, or have not enforced it and are unhappy that it has not been enforced

On 5 January 2002, the Concerned Citizens Forum held a seminar in Lahore’s Al-Hamra hall on the topic What kind of Pakistan do we want? The main speaker was ex-foreign secretary Mr Iqbal Akhund. One thought that the subject was not open for discussion, unless you take the title of the seminar to mean improvements in the running of the various state institutions. What kind of state do we want? can be answered by: ideological; and what kind of ideology? can be answered by Islamic; and what kind of Islamic state do we want? can be answered by: that which enforces the shariah.

I thought all these answers were in the Constitution and no one demanded anything else in Pakistan. Nor could anyone want it because there is a section in the Penal Code punishing anyone who speaks against the ideology of Pakistan with a long sentence behind the bars. That’s probably why at least one Urdu newspaper condemned what was said at the seminar.

Can you improve upon ideology? Yes, but not by watering it down, but by making it more hard–line and stringent. When Gorbachev wanted to make communism ‘loose’ (glasnost) and ‘reconstructed’ (perestroika), there was a coup against him. The communist state had to collapse and make way for Yeltsin’s capitalist order. Ideology brooks no revisionism.

In Pakistan too, every time it is felt that the ideology is not delivering there are prescriptions for further strengthening of the shariah. Therefore, it is no use recommending that we want a Pakistan where the ideology is either not there or is watered down.

Needless to say, anyone recommending that the ideological state be undone is committing heresy and could be punished under law. On the other hand, there are many institutions and personalities in Pakistan who answer the question What kind Pakistan do we want? by putting forth concrete steps to harden the ideology.

Hardening as answer to demands of reform:

The clergy is constantly demanding the enforcement of the shariah in answer to the question that the seminar asked. The Council for Islamic Ideology (CII) is busy on a daily basis to put forth its proposals for the conversion of the Pakistani state into a utopia of Islamic dreams.

Can we want a Pakistan different from the one we have? The answer is no.

The Ministry for Religious Affairs has already sent to the cabinet of General Musharraf a full–fledged programme for converting Pakistan into an ideal state. (The proposal has been shelved by a scared government). We have reached this stage in a gradual fashion, where these state institutions have become directly responsible for encouraging extremism even as President Musharraf takes steps to rein in the extremists.

In 1947, just before Pakistan came into being, the founder of the state, the Quaid–e–Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, made a formal statement which answered the question What kind of Pakistan do we want? He told his countrymen that he wanted a secular state. If earlier he had made ambivalent Islamic statements to woo the Muslim community, he now wanted to put them on notice that Pakistan would not be religious state.

(As the seminar of the Concerned Citizens opened, Pakistan’s well-known nationalist historian Safdar Mahmood had finished his four–part journalistic assault on those who thought that Jinnah was secular.)

In 1948, Pakistan signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after joining the United Nations. The Declaration contains articles ensuring freedom of religious worship. Therefore in 1949 when Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and his cabinet decided to table the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly, they were self–conscious about not infringing the rights of the non-Muslims in Pakistan.

This was Pakistan’s second answer to the question What kind of Pakistan do we want? It said that Pakistan would be an Islamic state where sovereignty will belong to God Almighty (later changed to Allah) but that all non–Muslims would be allowed to practise their religion freely.

The Hindu members of the Constituent Assembly from East Pakistan (25 percent of the delegation) objected because they did not want the kind of Pakistan envisaged in the Objectives Resolution. They were told by Muslim clerics outside the Assembly that an Islamic state treated its non–Muslims as zimmis and did not give them equal rights.

Inside the Assembly, Liaquat Ali Khan swore that non–Muslims would be treated equally, and Zafrullah Khan (sic!) told them what an excellent and progressive thing the Objectives Resolution was while Nishtar explained to them in a threatening tone the real meaning of jihad. (It is unclear why he should have spoken of jihad when trying to answer the question What kind of Pakistan do we want?)

Objectives Resolution as answer: To make sure that the ‘objective’ is not forgotten, the Objectives Resolution was appended to the Constitution as its Preamble. But then on a couple of occasions the Supreme Court had to accept the argument that a Preamble was not the actual body of the Constitution.

It was therefore taken upon himself by General Zia to insert the Preamble into the Constitution through an amendment. But, conscious of the fact that shariah ordained zimmi-hood, he removed the word freely from the text where the non–Muslims were promised freedom of worship in consonance with the Universal Declaration. The sneaky thing he did was that he did not notify the deletion of the word, freely.

That brought in the unspoken zimmi concept, in line with the fulfilment of the condition implied in What kind of Pakistan do we want? This ideal was reached by General Zia when he added separate electorates to the Constitution through his 8th Amendment. No non–Muslims could vote together with Muslims and were to be treated like a zimmi although the Constitution still did not contain the word.

General Zia asked the question very directly and answered it in great detail. His answer is now the grundnorm of our consciousness. If you deviate an iota from his shibboleths the orthodoxy of Pakistan, both political and religious, will have you by the throat. Zia asked Maulana Zafar Ahmad Ansari to report on what kind of state Pakistan should be in the light of the Islamic practice. The Ansari Report said an Islamic state cannot have political parties and cannot have a parliament with an opposition sitting in it. Hence the 1985 ‘partyless’ elections.

Iran got there first under the Ayatollahs by having a parliament without an opposition and no political parties. Afghanistan was even ‘purer’, it had an amirul momineen on the Medinate model, which caused many visiting Pakistani ulema, including Dr Israr Ahmad, to exclaim that he had created an ambience in Kandahar ‘just like the Prophet PBUH’.

General Zia’s answer was therefore not complete. His Federal Shariat Court was based on the ‘inclusive’ principle, meaning that anything not repugnant to Islam would be considered Islamic. While the democrats in Pakistan thought the Federal Shariat Court was incorrectly legislating instead of parliament, the ulema thought it fell far short of recreating the utopia of Madina. Major–General Abbasi, who staged his unsuccessful Islamic coup in the army in 1995, was to declare himself an amirul momineen according to the text of the speech that was found in his office.

No revisionism under ideology: Zakat and ushr were the first to be enforced to make Pakistan the kind of state we liked. Zakat, since its inception, has been regularly embezzled. Because of the malpractice in its distribution, it has not been distributed for a number of years. Its collection was always a problem because the Shia community never accepted and was allowed exemption.

The welfare state envisaged in this collection was never realised. After the Sunni community began ducking zakat by declaring themselves Shia, the Supreme Court granted the Sunnis the same exemption as to the Shias. Now as our religion minister Dr. Ghazi wants to provide loans to the unemployed out of the Zakat collection, he is supposed to have violated the law which says it can only be given as alms, and a notice to this effect has been issued by the CII.

American researcher Grace Clark, in Pakistan 2000 (Lexington Books, 2000) discloses that a federal officer had absconded to London with a billion rupees of Zakat money! On the other hand, ushr, not mentioned in the Quran, has been levied without reinterpretation: 10 percent taxation on rain–fed farms while the irrigated ones pay only 5 percent! The state we want cannot revise out–dated provisions even if the laws are not Quranic! Needless to say, the collection of ushr in Pakistan has failed.

About reinterpretation, the state we want has a clear stand. General Zia rejected Allama Iqbal when he was told in 1986 by Justice Javid Iqbal that his father did not think that hudood could be imposed in modern times and had said so in his famous Sixth Lecture. Today, we have the cutting of hands in the statute book but have not cut any hands so far.

One argument is that in ancient times hands were cut for theft because there were no prisons in Arabia. As if to answer this rationalisation, the CII has recently declared that Islam disallows prisons and therefore all prisons in Pakistan (the one we really want) should be dismantled! Another law relating to diyat (blood money) is often abused and has not been enforced with regard to a murder where the killer has not been found and the locality where the body is found has to collectively pay the blood money.

Needless to say, in the state we want, no one can reinterpret ancient jurisprudence when it doesn’t work. Banking has to be abolished because the money–lender’s riba has been equated with interest, just as rape has been equated with fornication and the raped woman is in fact punished if she cannot produce eye-witnesses who saw her being raped.

Can we want a Pakistan different from the one we have? The answer is no. The difficulty lies in the inability of the Muslims to mould their original revealed message to modern times by applying logic and rationality to the ancient case law. There was a time when this was done but the era of taqleed (imitation) has been upon us since the medieval period. Under colonial rule, many Muslims thought of introducing reason in the science of understanding the Holy Writ, but today no one in the Islamic world tolerates any deviation from taqleed even when this taqleed varies in practice from state to state.

All Muslim states are unstable either because they have enforced the shariah and are unhappy with it, like Pakistan, or have not enforced it and are unhappy that it has not been enforced. For Muslims the question What kind of state do we want? is a rhetorical one because for them it has already been answered.                     

(Courtesy: The Friday Times, Pakistan)

Archived from Communalism Combat, January-February 2002 Year 8  No. 75-76, Cover Story 4



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